Walking on Hardwater

Water does not freeze in silence. Sonic booms flush invisible ripples underneath what appears to be a suitable dance floor for Ginger and Fred. A drop of 10 degrees to 8, or lower, causes the ice to shift and buckle in a rumbling dance in deep layers of ice beneath where we stand. The booms echo across the stillness of what was once our boisterous, nautical, summer playground.

The water is hard, thick, slick and solid; impossible to penetrate with a scratch of a stick or a rock.  What appears to be cracks here are just more layers of ice. A solid window down into the underground-aquatic world of algae and sleeping frogs; farther than your eye can see.

The ripples that flowed along the shoreline in the summer are now replaced by water that breaks and refreezes in a continual cycle along the shore.

Frozen water is never truly safe. Under-water springs (our lake is home to several) continuously pump warmer water underneath the ice, imperceptibly weakening the solidness of the ice from below. Here is another frozen window into the still life of algae below, still green.  The white dots are frozen bubbles.

Around the cattails here, we learned that roots near the waters edge make ice weaker.

Here, we heard and saw, the ice crack beneath our feet, and we moved away to the safer areas toward the middle of the lake. Ironically, we were safer there.

Once, after spring’s thaw, Uncle Bud was curious about why he had not seen his fishing buddy at the usual spots. He made a phone call and learned from the woman who answered that there was an ice fishing accident; this seasoned ice fisherman fell into a weak spot. But of course, no one really knows what happened. Not on our lake; somewhere else.

I think of Uncle Bud’s story, as we walk, and remind our boys not to go out too far on the ice. The lure of walking on water, farther and farther out into the vastness of the ice is tempting; to stand in the spot where the water is normally 80 feet over your head.

I can’t say I blame them.

Still we have our rules; no one is to venture onto the ice alone. We use sticks to test the ice; rangers recommend life jackets underneath our snowsuits. If you do fall through the ice, buoyancy becomes critical. Keep the head and shoulders above water, as icy-cold water shocks the system, and takes your breath. With less air in the lungs, the body is less apt to float. Buoyancy gives you more time against hypothermia.

The boys have quickly adapted to this new, skinny blade that sits beneath their feet.

They’re in love with the speed this blade provides on this slick ice; it’s irresistible to keep gliding with that hockey stick, despite the sore ankles.

When he’s had enough, he comes inside and we wrangle his feet out of his skates, and he says with joy, “My feet are back!”

At the end of the day, I laid my head on my pillow and thought about the joy they found on the ice, how we escaped the ice’s tricks and tragedies, and how nice it was to be under this big blanket while the wind howled outside across the lake. I slept well that night.

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5 comments on “Walking on Hardwater
  1. I’ve never walked on ice before (not counting skating rinks), and while it’s intriguing and something I’d like to do, I also find it a nerve-wracking idea!

  2. How lovely. I am too nervous to go out on the ice like that. We’ve been watching an Ice Road Truckers show of men who drive big trucks on the frozen Arctic Ocean. I think they’re all a little crazy.

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  5. This is your writing at its most lovely, when it takes me and transplants me, with photos and words, in a magical scene like this. I spent 6 month in Canada as a child and I remember skating on the canal in Ottawa and watching the cars drive across the mighty, frozen St Laurence. You write my childhood.

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